Weight-Lifting Exercises to Improve at Rock Climbing

Improving at any sport always makes it that much more enjoyable, and climbing’s no exception.  Of course, the best way to improve in climbing is to climb, but incorporating other workouts can speed the process along and provide a boost when stuck in a climbing plateau.  According to research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, the two athletic abilities most correlated with climbing ability are the one arm lock-out and grip strength.  There a number of weight-lifting routines that can easily and  effectively improve these two abilities (there are also some great body-weight exercises, but that’s for another post). Here’s are the best weight-lifting options for improving climbing:

Cable Lat Pull-Downs and Variations: While cable  pull-downs don’t exactly mimic the muscle movements of a pull-up (or rock climbing), it is a very similar workout that targets the same major muscle groups.  The advantage of incorporating lat pull-downs into your workout is that you can focus specifically on back and arm strength by controlling technique and weight.  While weight can be added to pull-ups, it’s easier to add more weight to cable pull-downs.  Also, by doing one-armed pull-downs, cable can make it easier to focus on building equal arm strength.  

Try doing various repetitions, such as 3 sets of 8 to build more muscle or 4 sets of 4 to build strength.  Build climbing-specific strength by adding heavy weight and pulling the bar down and holding it in the flexed-arm position at the bottom for 5-10 seconds.

Weighted Pull-Ups and Variations: Weighted pull-ups perfectly mimic the primary muscles (including those in the core) that are involved in climbing.  The increased resistance will help build strength and climbing-endurance.  Even if you can only do a few pull-ups, doing one or two pull-ups with extra weight strapped on can help provide significant strength gains.

Try the same variations used with cable pull-downs.

Weight Pinches/Holds: A pinching grip is one of the more important, climbing-specific grips.  To build pinching strength,find a weight plate that is smooth on both sides, such as a rubberized plate, and squeeze it without bending your fingers, perform 6 reps of 10sec holds.  Remember to use the heaviest weight that you can still perform this exercise.  To build palm-gripping strength for round holds, grab the bottom of a kettle-ball and perform a similar routine, cupping the weight you would when palming a basketball.  

Wrist-Curls: This is one of the classic forearm strengthening (and thus grip strengthening) exercises.  Grab a barbell with an amount of weight you can perform 4 sets of 10 with.  Sit on a bench and place your arms on your knees, with your wrists placed just past your knees, then curl the bar towards you, using only wrist movement.  

Strapless Deadlifts: Usually deadlifts are performed primarily to strengthen the body’s major muscle groups (back, core, glutes, and quads), but they can also provide one heck of a forearm workout.  To focus on exercising your forearms, lift an amount of weight that you can hold in your hands for about 10 seconds, and perform 3-4 repetitions.  To avoid injury start to lower the bar before it slips.

Strong-Grip Technique: For all of the above exercises, especially the deadlift, experiment with gripping the bar as hard as you can during the execution.  Squeezing while lifting will more fully activate the muscles involved, as well as improve grip strength and endurance.

Sources: “Prediction of Indoor Climbing in Women Rock Climbers,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning; Relationship Between Anthropometric Characteristics of Indoor Rock Climbers and Top Roped Climbing Performance,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning

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Originally posted 2013-09-14 15:35:40.

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